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French onion soup

I feel like, in general, the overall consensus on onions is pretty split. Some people love onions. They cannot eat a sandwich or taco without a helping of raw onions. They like onions on their pizza. In their pasta sauces and burgers. In their eggs. Personally, I can’t live without onions. I would wear slices as bracelets, but the potential smell stops me. On the flip side of the divide exist the absolute loathers. They won’t get near them. I have a friend who will not eat something if a raw onion has touched it for a nanosecond.

But all bets are off when it comes to French onion soup.

French onion soup is one of the most beloved indulgent soups. I mean how can you not totally adore the wonderful, unmatchable taste that comes from slowly caramelizing onions in butter and olive oil, topped with bread and a thick layer of melted, ooey gooey, browned cheese? It’s good in restaurants, yes, but after you cut through the delicious cheesy goodness, the bread is usually the consistency of a sopping wet sponge, and I dont want to eat that. I would imagine that no other human wants to either. Here, you’ll make large bread “croutons” and top the soup with them right before serving. So there is no bready mess here, just crunch, cheese, and deep onion flavor.

This recipe is special to me because it’s from Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I love Julia’s Francophilia, her serious passion for life, and the force upon which she hit the cooking world. She revolutionized the way this planet thinks about food, and I love that. She also founded the Gastronomy program I’m currently in at Boston University.

I made this for my boyfriend, who is a huge fan of this soup, right before I moved to Boston. Please take note of his ginormous serving below, on the right. He took leftovers to work the next day. I’d think that means it was a great success.

French Onion Soup

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Note: this soup is a teensy bit time consuming, but the effort is well worth it. Plus the recipe calls for wine anyway, so who says you can’t sip on some while you cook?

For Soup

1 1/2 pounds (about 5 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef or other brown stock (if you’re a vegetarian, use vegetable or mushroom stock)
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cognac or brandy (optional)

For Topping

1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss (or Gruyere if you’re feeling fancy) or a mixture of Swiss and Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted
12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard


Melt the butter and oil together in the bottom of a 4- to 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over moderately low heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to real low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat slightly and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes (seems long, but don’t try to speed up this step, as it’s where the onions will really develop their flavor – it’s worth it!) until they have turned an even, deep golden brown.

After the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle them with flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the all of the wine, then the stock, a little at a time, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 more minutes, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings if needed but be careful about adding salt because the cheese will be salty. Stir in the cognac, if using.

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange six ovenproof soup bowls or crocks on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bring the soup back to a boil and divide among six bowls. To each bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon grated raw onion and a tablespoon of grated cheese. Stir to combine. Dab your croutons with a tiny bit of butter and float a few on top of your soup bowls, attempting to cover it. Mound grated cheese on top of it; how much you use will be up to you.

Bake soups on tray for 20 minutes, then preheat broiler. Finish for a minute or two under the broiler to brown the top lightly. Grab pot holders, and serve immediately.

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